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US, Contras Cast Doubt on Nicaraguan Rebel Atrocity Claims

May 8, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Reagan administration and Nicaraguan rebels tried Wednesday to cast doubt on a former rebel commander’s allegation that U.S.-backed Contra forces routinely commit atrocities.

Bosco Matamoros, spokesman for the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the chief rebel group known by the initials FDN, dismissed the new charges as ″outright lies″ and ″a clear part of a campaign carried out by the Sandinistas,″ Nicaragua’s leftist rulers.

Deputy State Department spokesman Edward Djerejian said the administration has seen ″no information which would substantiate the specific charges,″ although adding that it condemns ″all acts of terror and violence directed against civilians.″

Jose Efren Martinez Mondragon, a mid-level rebel commander, said this week in an interview and at a news conference that FDN troops routinely murder, kidnap and rape Nicaraguan civilians, who refuse to cooperate with the rebels. He said some of the victims are buried in secret cemeteries.

With his defection from the FDN, Martinez Mondragon became the first rebel commander to return to Nicaragua under a government amnesty program. He sought refuge in the Mexican embassy in Honduras and then flew to Mexico before returning to Nicaragua on Tuesday.

Private American human rights groups have accused FDN forces of widespread human rights abuses, including rape and murder of civilians. U.S. intelligence sources, speaking anonymously, have also confirmed that FDN atrocities have occurred although the administration insists the abuses are isolated.

FDN officials have generally dismissed the allegations as part of a Sandinista propaganda campaign, but have acknowledged that three officers were executed in late 1983 after being court-martialed for going on a rampage that included raping and murdering civilians.

On Wednesday, FDN spokesman Matamoros said the Sandinistas might have threatened Martinez Mondragon’s relatives inside Nicaragua as a way to blackmail him into making the charges.

Matamoros flatly denied Martinez Mondragon’s specific charge that he came across a group of 40 families last August who said they had been abducted by Contras who had killed eight young men and raped eight women. Martinez Mondragon said that when he raised the issue with rebel commander Enrique Bermudez, he was told ″to stop interfering in business that doesn’t affect you.″

Matamoros said Martinez Mondragon’s unit operated at least 200 kilometers from the site where the supposed encounter occurred.

″This is a clear part of a campaign carried out by the Sandinistas,″ Matamoros said. ″He is just repeating the Sandinista line. ... This campaign is to try to distract from Mr. (Daniel) Ortega’s trip to the Soviet Union.″

Last week, Nicaraguan president Ortega went to the Soviet Union to request $200 million in economic aid for Nicaragua’s shattered economy. President Reagan has implemented economic sanctions against Nicaragua and is pressing Congress for $14 million in new aid for the Contras.

Martinez Mondragon also said the Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan armies have supplied the rebels with the bulk of their ammunition and other military supplies since CIA funding was halted by Congress a year ago.

In response, State Department spokesman Djerejian said the United States is not providing funds to third countries for the purpose of supporting covert activities in Central America.

He said the United States keeps track of its economic and military assistance programs in each recipient country worldwide in order to verify that it is being used for its intended purposes.

″We are satisfied that it is not being diverted for other purposes,″ he said. ″This administration is in compliance with all applicable laws in both letter and spirit.″

The chairman of the Honduran joint chiefs of staff, Col. Efraim Gonzalez, told a news conference here last week Honduran military forces do not cooperate with the Nicaraguan rebels, many of whom are based in Honduras.